Here's why we like the bitter taste of coffee

The study found people with greater genetic sensitivity to bitter tastes typically opted for coffee over tea

The study found people with greater genetic sensitivity to bitter tastes typically opted for coffee over tea

The study is one of the first and the largest to dig into the mechanics of taste. A few people might dabble in the delicious, charming, soul-warming beverage (you can see where my allegiances lie), but many more seem to either love or hate the bitter stuff.

A recent study out of the University of Queensland revealed that our tolerance - or lack there of - for the bitter-tasting substances in both coffee and tea is related to a particular set of genes. The team found people with a greater genetic predisposition to perceiving the bitterness of caffeine drank a little more coffee, but an increased perception of the bitterness of quinine and prop were linked to a small reduction in coffee drinking.

The main players that give coffee and tea their bitterness are caffeine, quinine - you might know it from tonic water - and a man-made substance called propylthiouracil (PROP) that also give Brussels sprouts their unique taste.

Because our genes are fixed at conception, and our genetic variation can be thought of as random, they allow scientists to explore a sort of "natural experiment", meaning they can look beyond numerous social or environmental factors that can muddy the waters of our hot drink habits.

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The paper explains that individuals who are genetically more sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine actually end up liking coffee more than those who aren't.

And that is what led this team from Northwestern, working with scientists at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia, to be intrigued by coffee. The answer to that question might in part be down to your genes, research suggests. This makes flawless sense, given the evolutionary reasons humans are sensitive to bitter tastes in the first place: It's adaptive to not eat bitter things that might be under-ripe or poisonous. For alcohol, a higher sensitivity to the bitterness of PROP resulted in lower alcohol consumption, particularly of red wine.

A person's perception of bitterness is determined by their genes and those that were able to taste the varied types of bitterness in caffeine and certain vegetables preferred different drinks.

How could this be?

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This may be because people who are better at detecting caffeine are more prone to becoming addicted to its effects, and coffee contains more caffeine than tea. Again, double-ups of these two genes tends to mean you're more likely to slurp down five or more cuppas a day. "We want to understand it from a biological standpoint". Our tastes can and indeed likely will change over our lifetime.

"Bitter taste perception is shaped by not only genetics but also environmental factors", he said.

People who are more sensitive to coffee's acrid, bitter taste ironically like it more. "I guess you can say it's one of many factors and there's a genetic component to it".

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